In 1978, at the age of 24, C.J. Hunt suffered a cardiac arrest while jogging. He was told his life would be severely limited due to his heart condition, and that there was a 50% chance he would not live for two more years. This sent him on a journey to find health that ultimately led him around the world. He explored many diets, even writing two books along the way. His most recent project is a documentary film, five years in the making, called "In Search of the Perfect Human Diet," and it is now available on DVD.
Determined to Find the Best Diet
Hunt spent many years eating in ways that were commonly touted as being the healthiest way to eat, including following the standard U.S. Dietary Guidelines and trying vegetarian and vegan diets. The film contains some brief footage of these points of view. But Hunt's journey ultimately led him elsewhere: to the diet of our ancient ancestors. In the film he features many experts in fields of study which focus on the diets of human beings through the ages. He points out that instead of relying on short-term diet studies, we have a natural study with a sample size and length of "human beings through our history."
A Great Introduction
"In Search of the Perfect Human Diet" is a great introduction to some of the thinking behind paleo and low-carb eating, with insights as to why those diets have improved the health of so many. Hunt interviews scientists, authors, archeologists, anthropologists, and more (see below for a partial list), and puts clips from them into a coherent narrative that takes the viewer through the foundations of this way of eating in a way that is easy to understand. Finally, he ends up in the grocery store, to help us recognize the types of foods which are healthy. The film doesn't go into a great deal of depth on the science, but this is an advantage for people new to thinking in this way about diet, without overwhelming the viewer with a pile of scientific facts and figures.
Here's a sampling of some interesting points from the movie:
Our Paleolithic ancestors had larger heads than we do today. Heads had been getting larger over time (and so had the rest of the body), but once humans reached the point in history when they were eating a significant amount of grains, the skulls (and bodies) started to go the other way. In Paleolithic times, there was plenty of room for all 32 teeth, including wisdom teeth, which is often not the case today.
Studies of restoring some native people to the diets of their ancestors are discussed. Included in this was Dr. Jay Wortman, whose excellent documentary about changing the diet in a coastal village in British Columbia I've also reviewed (My Big Fat Diet
As a visual image, one part was filmed on a football field which represented human history. In this way, we can get a strong visual sense of how recently we've been eating grains, and even more recently, processed and industrial foods, which are a fraction of an inch of the football field. Yet those foods now make up 70% of the typical modern diet.
Whole grains and refined grains both have potentially problematic effects on our bodies, although there are different issues depending on whether they are refined or not.
Some of the most interesting scientists in the film were archeologists and anthopologists at such institutions as the Museum of Natural History in New York City, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. They discussed the role of animal foods on the brains of our prehistoric ancestors, how we used to eat a far greater variety of foods, and offering their opinions that "we aren't getting what we were built to need." I especially valued the opinions of these scientists, since they are "just the facts" type people who do not have a stake in any of the diet controversies which are so prevalent. (Did you know that you can tell by analyzing bones how much of the protein in the diet came from plants vs animals?)
Bringing Ancient Knowledge into the Modern Grocery Store
One of the parts of the film that I think will be most helpful to people who are newcomers to this way of eating is with Dr. Lane Sebring in Texas, as he brings us on a tour of a local grocery store, going from aisle to aisle, and pointing out which foods he has dubbed "Human Foods" and which are "Non-Human Foods."
I watch a lot of documentary films, as I'm a pretty big "doc fan." This one is full of fascinating insights and is very well put together by a man who had a lot at stake in finding the best diet for him. I recommend this film highly. Some closing thoughts from the film:
- "A healthy diet might not might not be convenient, but it’s not half as inconvenient as a fatal illness." (Or, I would add, disability from diabetes, etc.)
- “If this is a fad diet, it’s a 2 million year old fad.”
- “We don’t have to wait for the government or the media. We can start with our next meal.”
To get more information, view a trailer, and order your own DVD of "In Search of the Perfect Human Diet," check out perfecthumandiet.com
Participants in the 90-minute film include Loren Cordain, Gary Taubes, Michael Eades M.D., Robb Wolf, Barry Sears, Dr. Lane Sebring, Prof. Jean-Jacques Hublin, Dr. Jay Wortman, Leslie Aiello Ph.D., Andrew Weil, Boyd Eaton, and David Getoff.